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How pastors can avoid becoming “humanism-soaked sponges.”

David Bahnsen writes about the aftermath of the Kavanaugh imbroglio in which he opines on the situation that conservatives find themselves in—including those conservatives who happen to be Christians. There is one part of Bahnsen’s piece that jumped out at me when I read it. Bahnsen writes:

It would be nice if conservatives of faith had some support in the church, that allegedly spiritual institution of Christian community, doctrine, and practice.  If you want to know what the church will look like in 3-5 years, look at what the culture is doing now.  If you want to know what the culture looked like 3-5 years ago, look at the church now.  From all but complete outliers in Rome and evangelicalism, the Christian church is in the theology of capitulation business now, desperate to fit in, desperate to be accepted by Vanity Fair, and oblivious to the fact that no amount of surrender is going to prove sufficient.  Non-churched leftists are completely comfortable calling their ideology “leftism” or “progressivism.”  The cultural pacifists that fill today’s pulpits lack the courage to even self-identify for the humanism-soaked sponges that they are.  Christians, you are all alone if you are looking for the church to defend your cause, mission, and purpose.  I don’t blame unbelievers for laughing at the latest screed that comes from today’s emasculated church; I do blame believers for not doing so.

My despair has come from the realization that our divide in this country is not merely sociological, that the other side is playing for keeps, and will stop at nothing to win.  It is exacerbated by the realization that potential courageous opposition – the church – is asleep at the wheel.  And my turmoil is unresolved by the realization that the tactics we will face as a remnant defending western civilization and the American experiment in the decades ahead will not, and cannot, be reciprocated by our own side.  If we forfeit a quest for civility and decency, we will have already lost.

Let me stipulate up front that I do not believe that the church needs to take sides in the partisan guerilla warfare that characterizes our politics today. On the contrary, the church needs to be a voice of moral clarity and witness in a culture that is becoming increasingly fractured. That means first of all, that we need to preach the unvarnished gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners. It means second of all, that we need to call balls and strikes when speaking about how God’s truth comes to bear upon the world we live in—including how it comes to bear on political matters. We don’t show partiality. We must show absolute unwavering allegiance to a higher kingdom and calling.

How do we do that? In particular, how do pastors do that? How do they avoid becoming the “humanism-soaked sponges” that Bahnsen decries?

There are many things that could be said in answer to this question, but I want to say what ought to be the first and most obvious thing. Don’t preach the newspaper. Don’t preach whatever fad happens to be taking over the culture at any given time. Preach the word. Preach it verse by verse, line by line, chapter by chapter, book by book. If you want heaven to set the agenda of your message, then let the Bible set the agenda of your preaching. If you will do that, you will be more relevant than ever. If you fail that, you will be more irrelevant than ever. And no amount of flashy bells and whistles will save you from that irrelevance if you fail to preach the word.

1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

2 Timothy 4:1-5

What the Kavanaugh Conflagration Was Really About

I walked into Senator Mitch McConnell’s office three weeks ago on a Friday. I take my interns to DC every year for a conference, and I always walk over to the leader’s office on Friday morning to pick up House and Senate gallery passes. The Kavanaugh hearings were over (or so everyone thought), and the office was virtually empty except for two staffers, both of whom were from Lexington. So we chit-chatted about Kentucky. As I was about to leave, one of them said giddily, “We will have a confirmation vote for a new Supreme Court justice on Thursday!” Continue Reading →

The Kavanaugh Nomination: “An Absolute Political Acid Bath”

Albert Mohler comments on the controversy surrounding Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. He notes that opponents of the nomination are now saying that Kavanaugh is too “political” to be confirmed. Mohler responds:

It is the United States Senate that has the constitutional authority of advice and consent. It is that process that over the last several decades has devolved into an absolute political acid bath. Thus, it’s politically and intellectually dishonest now to argue that partisanship has entered into the equation. It has always been right there under the surface. But, ever since the Bork hearings in the 1980s, it’s no longer under the surface…

It’s intellectually dishonest for either side to say that this is a process that began with some kind of political neutrality or has ever been marked by a nonpartisan character in any moment, any hour, even any second of this process.

Those paying attention know that this analysis is spot-on. Mohler goes on to remind listeners of a little history. Throughout its history, the Senate has elevated open partisans and political figures to the high court.

When I thought of these controversies, my mind immediately went back to the late Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court during the last half of the 20th century, Earl Warren, who of course became a liberal lion, an icon of the Supreme Court. Earl Warren had served as Governor or California, had been deeply involved in Republican presidential politics, had himself served President Eisenhower as Solicitor General of the United States, and was in that position when was nominated as Chief Justice. Needless to say, it was a highly partisan environment, and when you’re looking at individuals to sit on the court, Chief Justice Earl Warren had a clearly partisan background. By the way, when Warren did become Chief Justice, three members of the court serving with him had been former members of the United States Senate, and two had served as Attorney General under President Eisenhower. Again, all of them very politically active.

Bottom Line: To argue that Judge Kavanaugh is any more partisan than these precedents is just not credible.

You can download the rest of Mohler’s commentary here or listen below.

 

Senator Ben Sasse on #MeToo and Kavanaugh Nomination

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska delivered a powerful speech on the floor of the United States Senate yesterday. It is not a partisan diatribe. It is the thoughtful reflection of a statesman who sees the big picture.

Senator Sasse acknowledges that we have witnessed some disgraceful moments over the last two weeks in the Senate Judiciary Committee. There have been ugly smears and worse. But Senator Sasse doesn’t get into all that in this speech. He is simply making an important point about what the coming vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination means. He rejects the premise that the vote is about whether or not we care about women and abuse: Continue Reading →

A Basic Principle of Justice

“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.”

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 19:15)

“Take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

Jesus of Nazareth, King of Kings (Matthew 18:16)


UPDATE: John Calvin’s commentary on Deuteronomy 19:15 is illuminating:

“Since too great credulity would often impel the judges to condemn the guiltless, [God] here applies a remedy to this evil, forbidding that the crime should be punished unless proved by sure testimony. Although He has naturally inscribed this law upon every heart, yet He would have it written down, that its observance amongst the Israelites might be more sacred; for nothing is more dangerous than to expose men’s lives to the tongue of a single individual; but, where the consent of two or three is carefully weighed, any lurking falsehood is for the most part detected. Lest, therefore, any one should be rashly condemned, and so innocence should be oppressed by any light conjectures, or insufficient accusations, or unjust prejudices, God here interferes, and does not allow any to be harshly dealt with, unless duly convicted.”

Does guilt or innocence even matter anymore?

Yesterday I read a column by Ross Douthat that is perplexing. If I’m being truthful, it’s worse than perplexing. It is an absolute disappointment. Douthat makes the case that it doesn’t really matter whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh is guilty or innocent of the allegations against him. Even if Kavanaugh is innocent, he has been tainted by accusations made against him and on those grounds alone could be unfit to serve on the Supreme Court. Douthat writes:

Even if Kavanaugh is innocent of the charge of a teenage sexual assault… to give such prominence and power to a man credibly accused would both leave an unnecessary taint on his future rulings (especially given his appointment by our Playboy president) and alienate social conservatives from the persuadable Americans, women especially, whose support any pro-life program ultimately requires.

Douthat goes on to argue that the uncorroborated allegations and the politics are so weighty, that “he may be innocent but his nomination will deserve to fail.” Continue Reading →

A feminist describes her abortion… and sadness

Just three years after Roe v. Wade passed, feminist writer Linda Bird Francke wrote about her abortion experience. Her story originally appeared under the pseudonym “Jane Doe” in The New York Times but was later published in a book of essays under her own name. Her experience and feelings afterward are still so very common today. In her own words: Continue Reading →

Jonathan Haidt: “Intersectionality aims for… an inflaming of tribal suspicions and hatreds”

Jonathan Haidt has a fascinating essay dealing with two kinds of identity politics—the good kind and the bad kind. The good kind is that espoused by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream Speech.” The bad kind is intersectionality. Unfortunately, it’s the bad kind that dominates university campuses today. Haidt explains:

King’s speech is among the most famous in American history precisely because it framed our greatest moral failing as an opportunity for centripetal redemption. This is what I’m calling the good kind of identity politics.

Let us contrast King’s identity politics with the version taught in universities today. There is a new variant that has swept through the academy in the last five years. It is called intersectionality. The term and concept were presented in a 1989 essay by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA, who made the very reasonable point that a black woman’s experience in America is not captured by the summation of the black experience and the female experience. She analyzed a legal case in which black women were victims of discrimination at General Motors, even when the company could show that it hired plenty of blacks (in factory jobs dominated by men), and it hired plenty of women (in clerical jobs dominated by whites). So even though GM was found not guilty of discriminating against blacks or women, it ended up hiring hardly any black women. This is an excellent argument. What academic could oppose the claim that when analyzing a complex system, we must look at interaction effects, not just main effects?

But what happens when young people study intersectionality? In some majors, it’s woven into many courses. Students memorize diagrams showing matrices of privilege and oppression. It’s not just white privilege causing black oppression, and male privilege causing female oppression; its heterosexual vs. LGBTQ, able-bodied vs. disabled; young vs. old, attractive vs. unattractive, even fertile vs. infertile. Anything that a group has that is good or valued is seen as a kind of privilege, which causes a kind of oppression in those who don’t have it. A funny thing happens when you take young human beings, whose minds evolved for tribal warfare and us/them thinking, and you fill those minds full of binary dimensions. You tell them that one side of each binary is good and the other is bad. You turn on their ancient tribal circuits, preparing them for battle. Many students find it thrilling; it floods them with a sense of meaning and purpose.

And here’s the strategically brilliant move made by intersectionality: all of the binary dimensions of oppression are said to be interlocking and overlapping. America is said to be one giant matrix of oppression, and its victims cannot fight their battles separately. They must all come together to fight their common enemy, the group that sits at the top of the pyramid of oppression: the straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christian or Jewish or possibly atheist male. This is why a perceived slight against one victim group calls forth protest from all victim groups. This is why so many campus groups now align against Israel. Intersectionality is like NATO for social-justice activists.

This means that on any campus where intersectionality thrives, conflict will be eternal, because no campus can eliminate all offense, all microaggressions, and all misunderstandings. This is why the use of shout-downs, intimidation, and even violence in response to words and ideas is most common at our most progressive universities, in the most progressive regions of the country. It’s schools such as Yale, Brown, and Middlebury in New England, and U.C. Berkeley, Evergreen, and Reed on the West Coast. Are those the places where oppression is worst, or are they the places where this new way of thinking is most widespread?…

Intersectionality aims for… an inflaming of tribal suspicions and hatreds, in order to stimulate anger and activism in students, in order to recruit them as fighters for the political mission of the professor. The identity politics taught on campus today is entirely different from that of Martin Luther King. It rejects America and American values. It does not speak of forgiveness or reconciliation. It is a massive centrifugal force, which is now seeping down into high schools, especially progressive private schools…

Students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.

Read the rest here.

Are Christians crying wolf about mistreatment and marginalization?

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian alleges that Christians are crying wolf with claims of marginalization and persecution and that those claims need to be vigorously challenged. Why have liberals failed to challenge them? She answers:

Why are we reluctant to challenge such claims? It’s the result of a tacit social contract, an uneasy truce after the 20th-century wars over science and the role of religion in the public sphere. According to this social contract, institutions outside the religious sphere will not use scientific methods to criticize religious beliefs, so long as those beliefs are not combined with sweeping political claims that extend far beyond the walls of the church.

This paragraph is astonishing on a number of levels:

1. Allen-Ebrahimian claims there is a “tacit social contract” in which secularists will not use “scientific methods to criticize religious beliefs.” Really? I can hardly believe that she would make this claim. Has she read any of the contemporary debates between creationists, evolutionists, and intelligent design advocates? The writings of the new atheists? To be sure, each side can give as good as it gets. But to say that Christian belief has been free to operate without scientific critique is just incredible.

2. Without realizing it, Allen-Ebrahimian exemplifies the very reason conservative Christians are concerned about marginalization and mistreatment. She says that Christians are free to practice their belief within the walls of the church but that they dare not do so “beyond the walls of the church.” Right there is the problem. It’s the difference between freedom of worship and freedom of religion. Freedom of worship relegates religious observance to the church house. Freedom of religion—our nation’s first freedom in the Bill of Rights—allows believers to practice their faith outside the walls of the church in their work, community, etc. So for example, if a Christian baker doesn’t want to participate in a gay wedding, freedom of religion says he shouldn’t be forced to do so. But the freedom of worship folks believe that he can bake cakes however he wants at church, but outside the church the state can use its coercive power to force him to violate his conscience and participate in gay weddings. It’s easy for Allen-Ebrahim to say “nothing to see here, move along.” She’s not the one facing public sanctions for believing what Christians have always believed about marriage.

3. Allen-Ebrahimian claims that Christians can believe what they want so long as “those beliefs are not combined with sweeping political claims.” This is staggering. Christianity is nothing if not a sweeping political claim. We believe that Jesus is Lord and that Caesar is not. That is why we sing at this time of year that he is “King of kings and Lord of lords and he shall reign forever and ever.” We don’t believe these words to be pie in the sky. We really do believe that our highest allegiance is to a crucified and raised Jewish man from Nazareth. We believe that he will judge the nations in righteousness, including the United States. We also believe that there will be sorrow for everyone who comes up short at that judgment. Those truths have sweeping implications for the way we live our lives now as citizens. And there are sweeping political implications for the way we view human dignity, justice, war, and a host of other public issues.

Christians aren’t crying wolf or being paranoid about the challenges to religious liberty that are increasing nationwide. They are happening whether Allen-Ebrahimian acknowledges them or not. And her wish to banish religious observance from the public square is precisely why we are concerned.

The big story from Alabama’s senatorial election is the absence of evangelical voters

In a column for RNS, Jonathan Merritt takes Albert Mohler to task for Mohler’s analysis of last night’s election results. He writes:

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appeared on CNN around 1 am to give conservative Christians credit for the controversial Republican’s defeat. “[Moore] lost because so many evangelicals didn’t show up. That’s the big story … what didn’t happen,” Mohler said.

But Mohler’s assertion flies in the face of the facts. Eight in 10 white evangelicals cast their vote yesterday for Moore, a man credibly accused of sexual misconduct with multiple underage women. That’s roughly the same number who one year ago voted for Donald Trump, a man credibly accused of sexual misconduct with several women who has also admitted to engaging in such behavior. (Additionally, the percentage of evangelicals who voted for a write-in candidate was roughly on par with the general electorate.)…

Mohler is a shrewd thinker and capable culture watcher, so I assume he must be referring to the evangelical share of the total electorate. White evangelical Christians comprised 44 percent of all voters yesterday, compared with 47 percent of voters in the 2008 and 2012 elections. But this tiny shift, which The Washington Post referred to as “slight signs of slippage,” is nothing to crow about.

I agree that there is nothing to “crow” about, and thankfully nobody (including Mohler) is doing that. And I would agree that certain self-identified evangelicals do have some soul-searching to do.

Having said that, Merritt has misunderstood the significance of these numbers and as a result has come to some erroneous conclusions about evangelical involvement in yesterday’s election. Merritt says that the white evangelical turn-out yesterday was only a “tiny shift” from previous elections. But he is comparing apples to oranges. The shift from 47% to 44% represents percentages of two totally different voter turn-outs.

The total vote yesterday was a fraction of what it was in previous election years. Yesterday 1,344,406 people voted in the Alabama senatorial election. According to exit polls, 44% of those votes were cast by evangelicals, which comes out to about 591,539 votes. Moore got about 80% of those votes bringing his total evangelical support to about 473,231 votes.

That means that out of 1.8 million adult evangelicals in Alabama, only 26% of them voted for Roy Moore last night. In previous elections (2008 and 2012), evangelicals were about 47% of 2 million voters in Alabama. As David French has observed, that means that about 350,000 fewer evangelicals turned out for this election than turned-out in previous elections. That is more than the difference in this election. The evangelical absence from this election more than accounts for Doug Jones margin of victory. RNS‘s own report earlier today confirms this and contradicts Merritt’s narrative:

White evangelicals were less motivated to go to the polls than other voters (black and white), and those that did were less likely to vote GOP than in 2012. My back-of-the-envelope calculation is that had they turned out and voted the way they did then, Moore would have won by 2-3 percentage points instead of losing by 1.5.

Lyman Stone’s analysis comes to the same conclusion as this one. He writes,

Many commentators are going to position Moore’s defeat as some kind of big let-down for evangelicals. It isn’t. More than 60 percent of the white evangelical adults in Alabama did not cast a vote for Moore.

True, very few voted for Jones, perhaps because Jones supports abortion, which must of us adult white evangelicals consider to be murder. But white evangelical turnout fell from nearly 75 percent in the 2016 race (which, of course, had a presidential election as well), to about 45 percent in 2016. That’s not some marginal change by a few evangelicals of conscience; that’s a powerful expression by a large share of Alabama’s electorate that political nonparticipation was better to them than the options they were offered.

Bottom line. Albert Mohler’s analysis of evangelical involvement in this election is correct, and Jonathan Merritt’s is wrong. About 75% of evangelical adults in Alabama chose not to vote yesterday. Tens of thousands of evangelicals would not vote for Doug Jones and could not vote for Roy Moore. They stayed home, and that made all the difference in this election.

Evangelicals had a decisive influence in this election—just not in the way that many commentators predicted. And certainly not in the way that Merritt alleges.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article included calculations based on 2.4 million evangelicals in Alabama. That number is actually 1.8 million adult evangelicals in Alabama. Other figures have been re-calculated to reflect that correction. HT: Alan Cross.

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